South L.A. Gang Violence Claims Young Victims After countless police crackdowns and "wars" on gangs, shootings and murders are still a fact of life in South Los Angeles. At least eight children have been among those shot in separate incidents over the past two weeks.
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South L.A. Gang Violence Claims Young Victims

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South L.A. Gang Violence Claims Young Victims

South L.A. Gang Violence Claims Young Victims

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Anthony Brooks in for Alex Chadwick.

We start today in South Los Angeles, where there's been a deadly surge in gang violence over the past several weeks.

Ms. CONNIE RICE (Lawyer, gang expert): If you had a 27 separate shooting shoot-out in any other American city, it probably would've made "60 Minutes."

(Soundbite of laughter)

But it didn't even make the news here.

BRAND: Coming up, Los Angeles lawyer and gang expert Connie Rice explains why so little has been done to rid Los Angeles of its gang problem. And we'll hear from Police Chief William Bratton

BROOKS: But first, a look at the situation on the streets. Over the past two weeks at least eight children have been among those shot in separate incidents. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports it's been especially grim in South Los Angeles, where dangerous streets have become even more deadly.

(Soundbite of siren)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Sirens and gun shots are the soundtrack of South Los Angeles. It used to be known as South Central, but people thought changing the name would also change the neighborhood's image. It hasn't, and shootings like the ones over the past week are the reasons why.

The neighborhood has been rocked by the murder of 17-year-old Jamiel Andre Shaw, a high school football star not a gangbanger. Last week, Jamiel was walking down the street talking on his cell phone with his girlfriend when someone came up to ask what gang set he was in. When Jamiel didn't answer, he was shot.

His mother was an Army sergeant who was serving her second tour of duty in Iraq. Last week, she flew back to bury her son.

Mr. JAMIEL SHAW SENIOR (Father of victim): She's hurting, you know. She's trying to deal with reality. You know, I mean, even though she's dealing with it out in Iraq, you know, and to come home and see her son dead in the streets, you know, it's hard on her.

DEL BARCO: The pain in Jamiel's father is also felt by the parents of a six-year-old African American boy who was shot in the head when gangbangers open up on the family's SUV. That same week, a 42-year-old man and 20-year-old son were shot to death outside their home for no apparent reason. It all followed the chaos at a local bus stop when a Crip's gang member opened fire into a crowd of school kids and adults. Eight people were wounded, five of them children. Police say it was a wonder nobody died.

Mr. MIGUEL LUGO (Resident, South Los Angeles): This is usual here. I mean, every night you hear fire shots, every night.

DEL BARCO: Twenty-year-old Miguel Lugo lives not far from where the bus stop shooting happened. He and his neighbors say they live in constant fear of shootings and homicides.

Ms. TONIA FLORES (Resident, South Los Angeles): (Spanish language spoken)

DEL BARCO: We're living with terrorism just like in Iraq, says Tonia Flores, whose children attend high school in South L.A. She was among the scores of South L.A. residents who last week turned out for a meeting a local middle school to urge police to do something.

LAPD officials say they don't believe the shootings are related, and they've downplayed that race is a motive in any of them. But many people disagree, considering the tensions between African Americans and Latinos here.

City council member Jan Perry, who represents South L.A., calls it a power struggle between gangs.

Councilwoman JAN PERRY (City council, South Los Angeles): It's about controlling commerce. It's about controlling the flow of money in and out of community. And while some people may cast it as race, it's a form of manipulation that gang members use because they want to control an area even at the expense of the lives of the people who live there. So I'm going to tell you straight out right now, it's about money first and money last and it's always about money.

DEL BARCO: How does this affect children who live in South L.A.? Just ask elementary school student Miguel Gonzalez(ph).

Mr. MIGUEL GONZALEZ (Elementary school student, South L.A.): It's a bad neighborhood. Last time they shot close to our house.

DEL BARCO: Gonzalez is just nine years old, but like a lot of children growing up here he already knows how to duck and take cover in the bathtub or closets far from the front of house when bullets start flying.

Mr. GONZALEZ: When they shot, we get down, lay down on the ground, and put our hands on our heads.

DEL BARCO: And how do you know how do to that?

Mr. GONZALEZ: They told us in our school.

DEL BARCO: And that stress takes its toll, says Malik Spellman. He's a former gang member, who now works to lead young people out of the gang lifestyle through his group Unity T.W.O.

Mr. MALIK SPELLMAN (Unity T.W.O.): Elementary school children are being subjected to this (inaudible). These kids are suffering from PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder - in which they're having the same type of effects that a child in Vietnam or Iraq or Iran or Israel will have from being in a war.

DEL BARCO: Adults have also had to adapt to the volatile streets.

Mr. SPELLMAN: You have to fear for your life when you walk out your door.

DEL BARCO: At 50, Jeffrey Davis is considered an O.G. - an original gangster, a lifelong member of the Four Trey Crips street gang.

Mr. SPELLMAN: Because you don't know if you got a wrong color on or you're the wrong skin color. You don't know what that person's going to do or what that person's going to do. And people cross paths and it's just communication gets messed up.

DEL BARCO: So how have you been able to survive here all these years?

Mr. SPELLMAN: Me, myself? Baby, I believe in the Lord and my boys. We, you know, I'm a gangster. Yeah, me and my boys, we had to watch our own backs. We had to be a crew. We had to walk in twos. We had to walk in threes. We had to walk in fours in order to survive in this neighborhood. OK?

DEL BARCO: In this vastly underpoliced area, Davis and others say officers take hour to respond to 911 calls. And he says often cops hassle the wrong people. Many folks are reluctant to report crimes, afraid of retaliation or scared that they may be turned over to immigration agents.

LAPD Chief William Bratton says he's counting on community help and intervention to help stem gang violence, and he's slowly begun to add more officers to his ranks.

(Soundbite of chanting)

(Soundbite of cheering)

DEL BARCO: L.A.'s police academy has just graduated 84 new officers, including 25-year-old Anthony Arevalo(ph) and 22-year-old Brad Coleman. They'll be working the gang detail in South L.A.

Officer ANTHONY AREVALO (Los Angeles Police Department): Gangs are always going to be here, but the best thing we can do is just minimize it.

Officer BRAD COLEMAN (Los Angeles Police Department): Obviously we can't be on every street, every corner and every house at all the time, but, you know, with the family that we have here, LAPD, I think, you know, we're going to do our best.

DEL BARCO: But even Coleman's cousin, anti-gang officer Mike Switzer, says tackling the violence in South L.A. is never-ending.

Officer MIKE SWITZER (Los Angeles Police Department): There's more gang members than there are us.

(Soundbite of ice cream truck)

DEL BARCO: As the afternoon ice cream truck rolls through the working class black and Latino neighborhood, South L.A. doesn't seem so menacing. But nine-year-old Miguel Gonzalez knows better. He dreams of the day when he and other children can play outside in peace.

What do you wish this neighborhood were like?

Mr. GONZALEZ: That there won't be no gangsters, no shooting around here. No shooting. No shooting little kids.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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